• Labor Senator Patrick Dodson has questioned government officials about funding for First Nations legal services. (AAP)Source: AAP
WA senator Patrick Dodson says 'rogue’ religious groups spreading life-threatening anti-vax propaganda should be prosecuted.
Sarah Collard

3 Sep 2021 - 8:26 AM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2021 - 8:28 AM

Yawuru senator Pat Dodson has slammed 'fringe' Christian groups spreading anti-vaccination messages, accusing them of disseminating false and 'life-threatening' information in First Nations communities. 

Dodson said the misinformation campaign was partly responsible for the low vaccination rates in some areas of Western Australia.

"People are being deliberately told lies and they're put under tremendous pressure... creating anxiety, fear and mistrust," he told NITV News.

Dodson said the federal government should prosecute those who knowingly spread false information, particularly to vulnerable groups like Indigenous peoples.

"If you've got capacity under the criminal code, you'd prescribe these people as some kind of terrorist group, perpetrating false information against known scientific impacts that this virus is having around the world," Senator Dodson said.

"We live in a free, democratic nation. But this deliberate perpetration and propaganda, should not be tolerated in these circumstances.

"Anyone perpetrating the false information and putting fear into the hearts of good and honest people should be prosecuted, removed or held in detention until they understand the significance of what we're trying to deal with."

Senator Dodson said some of the groups contained "prominent" Christian figures.

"They are well-known in the community... They've been on different sorts of missions to destroy Aboriginal spiritual relationships with Country, and their protocols and practices." 

The vaccination rate in Western Australia is below ten per cent in some areas, with remote regions faring the worst. 

Just 7.29 per cent of Indigenous people in the state's outback north are fully vaccinated.

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Social media, religious beliefs causing 'confusion'

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO Pat Turner raised similar concerns saying religious groups were spreading misinformation that a "higher power" would stop people from dying or catching the virus. 

"There are people and communities, Aboriginal communities that belong to groups like the Assemblies of God and other such religions, that strongly believe that God will protect them,” she told The Conversation.

“God will not stop COVID killing our people. I’m sorry to the religious leaders who believe that, but I’m telling them that will not happen.”

NITV has spoken to a number of health organisations across the country, including Halls Creek in WA and the APY lands in South Australia, who are 'alarmed' about the misinformation. 

Brenda Garstone, CEO of Yura Yungi Medical Service, said conspiracy theories on social media were also leading to hesitancy. 

"(They are) giving the incorrect messaging around the vaccine. And there's people are getting confused with religious beliefs and practices versus the medicinal purpose of the vaccine," Ms Garston told NITV. 

In South Australia's APY Lands, Nganampa Health Council's vaccination coordinator Adrienne Storken told NITV News health messaging is getting confused with spiritual and religious beliefs. 

"People believe that if they have this vaccine, they won't be welcome at the church — We're hearing all sorts of conspiracy theories."  

Senator Dodson said getting the right information and messaging to First Nations communities is critical.

"I think we need to ramp it up and get this message out that we are faced with a serious pandemic, and a serious virus, and we have to use the vaccines to help prevent us from being wiped out."

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